The Office of Personnel Management wants to loosen its hold on chief human capital officers by demoting its Human Capital Assessment and Accountability Framework (HCAAF) from regulations to guidelines.
HCAAF gives human resources officials a list of things to do in five areas of their job, concerning strategy, leadership, knowledge and talent management, work culture and accountability.
“I actually would view this as a big step by OPM. They’re actually taking away very prescriptive regulations,” said Jeff Neal, who retired last month as the chief human capital officer of the Department of Homeland Security. In that role, he sometimes fought with the HCAAF regulations, he said.
“Instead of saying DHS needs better processes for hiring border patrol agents and we want to work on improving that, they gave us a list of five human capital systems: strategic alignment, leadership and knowledge management, results-oriented performance culture, talent management and accountability,” Neal said. “Then they said we had to report based on those things and we had to plan around those things. By putting all of that in the regulations, they sort of tied our hands.”
OPM’s proposal still would expect agencies to follow the HCAAF guidelines, although they would have more discretion to focus on some of the areas, rather than all five.
“The purpose of these proposed changes is to focus on the specific requirements that are most significant for establishing/maintaining efficient and effective human capital management while providing agencies more flexibility in determining how they will accomplish their human capital planning activities,” OPM wrote in the rule proposed Friday in the Federal Register.
Rick Hastings, a former deputy chief human capital officer at the Treasury Department, said HCAAF did the government some good.
“It just makes good business sense that you would have the five principles that are in the HCAAF,” he said. “If you don’t have guidelines or guidance, it could potentially deteriorate from where agencies have currently gotten as a result of the HCAAF guidelines.”
But Hastings says OPM now is being proactive by giving agencies room to train their human capital officers. “You don’t want to go out and beat people up while they’re still being developed,” he said.
The proposed rule is part of a 20-year trend toward decentralizing federal human resources activities, said John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service. He said OPM had to hold agencies accountable as a way to guide, rather than restrict, agencies.
“There’s the intent of law to have a merit-based civil service so you want to have some assurance that there’s not a renegade agency out there, hence you have the HCAAF-type of situation where OPM says, as the central personnel agency, ‘We’re not going to do the work, but we’re going to look over your shoulder occasionally to make sure you’re doing it right,'” he said.
The OPM proposal would also let agencies spend their human capital resources more wisely as they expect to have smaller budgets and fewer resources.
“The more you prescribe how to do things, rather than the results you want them to accomplish, the less opportunity for innovation you have, the less ability to do really great things you have,” Neal said. He predicted innovation and creativity will come in handy as agencies find themselves having to meet the same goals with fewer resources.